By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday that he’s abandoning his proposal to do away with average class size restrictions in Tennessee.
The Republican governor’s decision came as a growing chorus of educators and parents — and the lawmakers who represent them — criticized the idea, fearing the change would hurt teaching standards because more classrooms would be filled to capacity.
Haslam said in a press conference in his Capitol office that his plan was thwarted by the challenge of explaining that the measure’s goal is to give school districts more flexibility to hire high-priority teachers.
“When the reason to do something takes you four minutes to explain, but the reason not to do something — you can say large classes bad, small class sizes good — takes five seconds, it’s a difficult process,” Haslam said
The governor noted that Tennessee is the only state that places caps on both the total classroom size as well as on average school-wide enrollment.
Gov. Bill Haslam said today he is giving up for this year a push for legislation that would remove the current limits on average class size in Tennessee schools.
The governor said he remains “quite committed to the idea,” but recognizes the proposal has raised many concerns and questions.
“We will wait and work on that and pursue it, with some adjustments, next year,” he told reporters this morning.
Haslam blamed the setback on difficulty in communicating this plan, which is proposal, based on the notion of giving local school systems more flexibility.
It required a “very complicated explanation,” he said, while those opposed had a very simple message – that small classes are good, big classes are bad.
“The reason to do something takes you four minutes to explain,” he said. “You can explain why you’re against it in five seconds.”
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam acknowledged Thursday that his class size proposal has received with “mixed reviews,” but vowed to press ahead with the measure intended to help schools fill high-priority teaching positions.
The Republican governor said in a speech at a luncheon hosted by The Associated Press and the Tennessee Press Association that his administration is still working to build support for the measure that would do away with average class size restrictions.
“It has been met with mixed reviews — I guess that’s a charitable way to say it,” the governor said in a speech to state editors and publishers.
Under current law, elementary school classes are capped at 25 students, but schools can maintain an average of no more than 20 students per class. Haslam says getting rid of the latter provision would free up money for schools to pay more for teachers in key locations or subjects.
“We think that flexibility is very, very helpful,” he told reporters after his speech. “The answer is not, I agree, to just increase class size to free up more money to do other things. That’s not the right answer.”
House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, said the proposal has met with some resistance.
News release from Tennessee Democratic Party:
NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Democratic Party launched Wednesday an online petition drive opposing Governor Bill Haslam’s proposal to eliminate average class size requirements at public schools. Chairman Chip Forrester released this statement to accompany the petition:
“Parents and teachers know first hand what difference small class sizes make in improving student learning. It’s common sense; the fewer students in a classroom, the more time a teacher can spend with each individual student.
“If our goal is to improve student learning, Governor Haslam’s plan to increase class sizes is the wrong way to go. It’s a bad idea that shortchanges our kids’ future.
“We can’t afford to settle for anything but the best in Tennessee’s classrooms because the countries our kids will be competing with for the jobs of the 21st century — China, Japan, India — aren’t settling either.
“In tough economic times, education is an easy target for cuts, but nothing could be more short-sighted. When parents are stressed at home because they’ve lost a job, children need more strong, effective teachers, not less. When jobs are scarce, there’s no better time for young people to get that degree or for workers who’ve been laid off to go back and re-train.
“It’s time to recommit to our kids, our workers, and our future by making sure Tennessee has the best educated children in the nation.”
The Tennessee Democratic Party will deliver the petition and comments to the governor’s office in the coming days.
Online at: http://tndp.org/blog/take-action/tell-governor-haslam-class-size-matters/
House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh’s op-ed column, sent to media after appearing in the Commercial Appeal:
It’s your daughter’s first day of kindergarten. She’s excited, but also scared to be leaving Mom and Dad. You tell her it will be all right, that her teacher will take care of her and that she’ll make lots of new friends.
But as you open that classroom door, you’re shocked to see dozens of other children, all going through the same emotions as your daughter. Some are crying, some are yelling and several are trying to run out of the room. You wonder how your daughter will get the attention she needs from her teacher, who will struggle simply to find space for everyone. Suddenly, you’re feeling the same nerves as your daughter — but for an entirely different reason.
A proposal from Gov. Bill Haslam would permit public school districts in Tennessee to create classes with larger numbers of children and, as a result, would decrease the individual attention our children receive from their teachers. The plan could also result in thousands of teacher layoffs, unbearable financial burdens on local governments and a reversal of the progress we have made in our schools.
We support the governor’s efforts to enact meaningful reform and provide the education our children deserve. That’s why we passed Tennessee’s Race to the Top legislation two years ago, enabling our public schools to measure performance, better train teachers and support innovative ideas.
But the governor has made a mistake by pushing this year to allow larger class sizes in elementary and middle schools, a move that members of his own party have opposed. Removing the state’s average class-size requirement means schools would put more students in every classroom, while laying off thousands of teachers at a time when we need them the most.
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
MOUNT PLEASANT, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to lift a cap on class size averages is meeting resistance from educators, but the Republican calls the proposal a key element to his effort to allow school districts to raise teacher pay.
Haslam told reporters after a visit to a Maury County middle school Tuesday that Tennessee is alone in setting both maximum total and average class sizes.
“We’re the only state that does that, so I think that’s worth looking at,” he said.
Removing the average size requirement would allow schools to have larger classes, meaning the total number of teachers could drop.
“Lifting the maximum average class size would give local school boards, if they wanted it, some flexibility to pay some teachers more, but no teacher would be paid less,” Haslam said. “That ability to pay some teachers more for hard-to-teach subjects in hard-to-teach places is very important.”
Republican legislators representing Rutherford County say a proposal by the governor that could raise the average classroom size in Tennessee schools is getting a cool reception in the General Assembly, reports the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal. State Sen. Jim Tracy told members of the Murfreesboro Education Association and Rutherford Education Association “the brakes” have been put on that legislation because of lawmakers’ concerns it could negatively affect classroom performance.
Tracy’s comments came during a legislative forum Thursday at Blackman High School where local educators raised questions about new laws and bills affecting education, and opposition to increasing the number of students in the classroom was a common theme.
Rutherford County Schools finance director Jeff Sandvig told the Rutherford legislative delegation that the move to eliminate requirements for average classroom sizes will lead to larger classrooms here and, ultimately, fewer teachers.
Gov. Bill Haslam, in his recent State of the State address, introduced a plan to free up money for higher teacher pay by changing the requirements on classroom sizes. Haslam also wants to eliminate the state salary schedule for teachers and give local systems authority to set up pay structures based on student test scores and evaluations.
The Basic Education Plan funding component will increase by $3,500 per teacher, but K-8 class sizes would increase by five students, which will lead to 200 fewer state-funded positions in Rutherford County schools, Sandvig said.
…Earlier, state Rep. Rick Womick told the audience he is not in favor of raising the average classroom size.
State Sen. Bill Ketron agreed that the proposal is complex because it took Department of Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman 25 minutes to explain it at a recent legislative breakfast….(Ketron also said the legislation “may be premature.”
A survey by the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents (TOSS) has found that 80-percent of its membership opposes Gov. Bill Haslam’s plans to tie school funding to larger class size, reports WKRN-TV. “The request from TOSS is not to take any action on the bill,” said Williamson County’s School Director Dr. Mike Looney.
“We feel like we have most of this figured out on how to impact students in a positive way, so we don’t need a lot of state intervention to get the work done,” said Looney who is a board member of TOSS.
As superintendents push hard for changes in the governor’s class size bill, House Speaker Beth Harwell acknowledges the pushback from schools even though the bill gives superintendents more flexibility in paying teachers.
“I do have a number of members who are concerned that it is not being well received back in their home school districts, so I think all of this is still a work in progress,” Harwell said.
Democrats said the governor’s bill could eliminate 2,000 teachers statewide.
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to allow local Tennessee school districts to determine class sizes is drawing strong opposition from teachers who say it will adversely affect students’ ability to learn and graduate.
The Republican governor announced the plan and other education proposals last week. He said the measure concerning class size would give local school districts more options and flexibility in how they approach classroom instruction and teacher compensation.
“It keeps the maximum class-size requirements, but average class-size requirements or mandates per school go away at the locals’ discretion,” the governor said.
Tennessee Education Association President Gera Summerford said “eliminating the average class size mandates is a radical proposal that will result in every student having less attention from his or her teacher.”
“This proposal is a threat to student learning, because smaller class sizes enhance safety, discipline and order in the classroom,” she said. “It will result in lower graduation rates and higher juvenile incarceration rates. Students with special needs will have less of the assistance they need.”
By Erik Schelzig
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday urged cash-strapped local school districts to prioritize spending on top teachers over limiting classroom sizes.
Speaking at a Girls State event at Lipscomb University, the governor acknowledged that larger classrooms mean less individual attention for every student.
“But if you’re going to make an investment, I’d rather invest in getting great teachers and paying them more and have the larger (classrooms) than doing the opposite,” he said.